Looking at the “Revamped” Magnani Portofino Watercolor Paper

May 16, 2022


This week I’m going to be showing examples of work done on a new block of Magnani’s Portofino, a 100 percent cotton, 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper.

In the downsizing I came across a block of this paper when emptying my flat file.

I’ve had blocks of this paper that I’ve worked from now and then. I’ve always enjoyed it. It was no surprise to me then that I really enjoyed working on the found paper. It was gelatin sized and delightful to work on.

I called Wet Paint and bought more.

Bad News: The paper is no longer made in the same way that my old block was made. 

On the new pad there is no mention of gelatin being the sizing. Ad copy for the paper mentions it is “has new enhanced double sizing for higher performance.”

The front wrapper on the block also says Magnani 1404. This is part of the rebranding of the new product. If you have been a fan of Magnani papers you’ll remember a while back we couldn’t get any. Evidently an avalanche blocked off the mill. 

Well this paper is back, but don’t make the mistake of believing that this is the same Magnani Portofino available in 2000 or 2002 (which based on the archeological dig necessary during the downsizing is when my good pad is from!). I’ve tested them side by side and the new paper doesn’t live up to its name.

Gone is the lovely gelatin sizing on this new version. This revamped paper is certainly NOT how their paper HAD been in 2000 let alone 1404. Remember I said things change? 

What really surprised me, however, was how truly awful for watercolor the new surface sizing was on this paper.

Rather than try to describe it I thought I would simply show you the first portrait I did on this paper and my subsequent test sheet.

In that portrait you’ll see the streakiness as I try to push the paint across the sheet where it won’t flow. And you’ll see the unintentional splotchiness where the paint beaded up. (Some of that can be hidden by additional layers, but who wants to keep fussing and fussing with their watercolor washes!)

You can click on the test sheet image and view an enlargement which will be readable, write-os and all.

I found the paper so unpleasant to work with that I stopped testing on the back of the sheet, after trying my pigment ink brush pen and got similar results to the front of the sheet.

Pay Particular Attention To…

In both the watercolor portrait sample and on the test sheet, you’ll see how the paper is actually RESISTANT to watercolor and ink, causing both to bead up!

There is also a tremendous amount of drag on this paper with wet media. More drag than I care for. (Remember I like the watercolor to glide on the gelatin sizing of a quality paper! So I do have a preference for something that is not this.)

For me the way it handles ink and watercolor are deal busters. I returned the unused blocks I’d purchased and picked up some Fluid 100 hot press (a gelatin sized cotton paper).

Things That Aren’t So Bad…

I like to find something positive to say about products I review. Not everyone likes to work the way I work. Something I enjoy might not be a part of how someone else works.

I found it difficult to say something positive about this paper, so different was the new version from the old version.

Maybe if you are one of those people who doesn’t mind your watercolor paint beading up on your watercolor paper, and you don’t enjoy making effortlessly smooth graduated and flat washes there might be aspects of this paper that will be useful to you.

The one definitive thing I can say about this paper is that it is easy to lift up color from it. (Examples of that are on my test.)

What I found in my tests is that it took graphite and color pencil well (though the latter didn’t have enough build up potential on this paper as I prefer in papers I use color pencil on). You can see examples and little notes on my test sheet about this.

If you like working in graphite on watercolor paper maybe this is the paper for you? I would argue you’ll find less expensive and more suitable and versatile sheets made for watercolor which will also take color pencil work, but if you like working in graphite and are looking for different papers you could add this to your list of papers to test.

I didn’t get out the gouache and do a full portrait on this paper because it was so unpleasant to work on. Also, often when working with gouache I’ll do a translucent layer first before I start building up my opaque layers. On this paper that would have meant dealing with the beading paint.

But there was some gouache on my palette leftover from a background lay-in. I tested it in a small area. You can use the drag qualities of this paper to work efficiently with the thicker paint and maybe that’s worth a test by you if you work in gouache.

Again, for my money I believe that there are other papers on the current market that I would rather spend time painting on with gouache. 

Life is short. Time moves quickly. I’m disinclined to work on papers that simply aren’t fun to work on. Frankly I would rather work in watercolor on some of the non-art papers you see me work on all the time—they have better sizing and are much less expensive.

More examples of my work on this paper will follow in my posts this week.

    • Paul
    • May 16, 2022

    So another good paper bites the dust! Appreciate these reviews Roz, saves us a lot of grief and money 😉. Will this “new” paper work with the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens? Does it provide enough open time to allow for some blending? Does it absorb the ink evenly?

    1. Reply

      I don’t use Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens much currently. I got up and did a quick test of the ones I had on hand, checking first that they weren’t too dried out to render the test useless. They are draggy, a bit splotchy (as other inks are) and stuck right in with no blending time. If you’re just going to use them to make lines you could write or sketch with them that way on this paper as I did with the other fiber tipped pens I currently use. I wouldn’t buy this paper for use with the F-CPABP at all.

      Since you asked about those and the Uni-Posca markers were out on the table nearby I worked a little with them on this paper. Because you can control ink flow in them they are less draggy on this paper, but the paper brings nothing special to their use.

      And for people using Montana water-based acrylic markers—those are streaky and draggy on this paper, even though you can pump up the ink flow. (You can get so much ink out that it moves a little better, but that’s now I typically use these markers.)

      As for acrylic inks in wash or acrylic paints—all that stuff is pretty much packed away in the downsizing while the studio is reorganized so I can’t test them, but based on how the watercolors worked I wouldn’t be hopeful for the inks, except in sketching lines. There are so many other surfaces worth working on using acrylic inks as washes why focus on a single use paper of this questionable quality? As for thicker applications of acrylic paint—which I also can’t test right now—that would probably work just as some gouache application approaches would work—but why focus on this paper as a single use paper when other suitable papers with many uses abound? People working in acrylic ink washes and thicker acrylic paint, however may wish to test their methods specifically on this paper for themselves since I can’t at this time, and will have no inclination to do it later when I again have access to my paints.

      Hope this helps Paul.

        • Paul
        • May 16, 2022

        Many thanks Roz, you always go above and beyond. Because you mentioned ink being repulsed on this sizing I was hoping there might be more open time with the F-C Pitt Artist Pens. Since that is not the case this paper holds no promise for me. Thanks again 👍.

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